Works by Mark Balenovic

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Page 5: The Studio and Shop

Design Process       Page 5A Footings and ICF       Page 5B Masonry and Timberwork       Page 5C Exterior       Page 5D       Page 5E: FORM PLYWOOD


This project was conceived as a work space for me, and as a showplace of reasonable high end design and construction principles.


Some specs:


CONTINUOUS FOOTINGS: 36" wide, 12" thick, high-strength #4 (1/2" diameter) rebar (reinforcing bar). Santa Fe is infested with undersized footings, because of the code allowance for seismic, but the fact is, we're all living on an ancient clay seabed which turns into quiche when it rains. Locals call it "caliche". So you have to float your building on this plastic mass. My footings are a full 12" wider than code minimum. Cost difference: I asked the excavator to bring his 36" bucket, and then I had to pour 30% more concrete.  But I also got a 30% larger footprint to support my structure. Time will tell.


ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) ARXX Blocks styrofoam sides (2.75" thick) with polypropylene webs @ 8" o.c. (on center), yielding, when poured, a continous 6.5" thick concrete core and r-55 insulation value. By the time we finished the ICF part of the project, we became experts at the process: there's more to it than just snapping the forms together. You can see our ingenious form braces and stiffeners in the photos. Biggest lesson learned: you can never have too much bracing. Saddest lesson learned: I don't think we're ready for this sort of construction as it produces a way too permanent of a structure. OSB (oriented strand board sheets) and Celotex (oil waste impregnated felt sheets) are the stuff of standard construction nowadays. They bulldoze easily. My 150 ton concrete bunker will be difficult to wipe off for progress some day.


STANDING DEAD TIMBER members. This is lumber that was already killed by fire, not nasty little lumberjacks trying to feed their families. The tree boles remain standing after the fire, and some three years later, they are harvested for timber. The lumberjacks get to feed their families after all.  Local Ponderosa Pine, Red Fir (Douglas Fir), White Pine. No live trees were felled to provide timbers for this structure. An expensive and feel-good gesture, but also yielding more seasoned timbers for our fast-track (for a snail) two-year build timeline.  The timber roofs are covered by another "pocket" roof, which houses the insulation and provides an air-pocket. Really two roofs in one, extremely beautiful, energy-efficient and impossible to feed to the masses. 


GREEN BUILDING. Nobody is building green in the United States unless they have a lot of money, or time and physical/mental genius, or if they have nothing, use nothing, grow their own food, and vote with an attitude. The rest of us are burning resources like there is no tomorrow, thanks to our ignorance and obsession with commercialism, a runaway cancer whose only hope in surviving is constant growth.  What is perceived as green by the buying public is a small, photogenic part of a philosophy that our get-rich-quick mentality just can't support. Here's one small example for you: the proper life cycle of a material. Go to Page E: FORM PLYWOOD. A budget-and-performance-shackled professional (money-making) builder would not attempt to reclaim plywood forms, clean them of debris, reverse out all of the fasteners, and set them aside for future pre-planned use. At a typical site, you would throw away the forms. My building "feels" green, and I could try to peddle it as such. But the question remains: how much energy and resources did I go through to build this healthy and efficient structure? And how much energy and resources could I do without, were I to minimize my requirements? After all, couldn't I just inhabit and reuse some existing structure, or just resort to internet e-commerce? Why do I deserve this building? Is building green simply being more parsimonious than the norm? Who decides these things? Will there be a  future "comparable" green score upon a building's resale, set by realtors, appraisers, bankers, and other experts of fast-food architecture? I think the green concept is a fantasy for the elite.


TEAM BUILDING. I managed to put together a relatively decent construction team, thanks to a lucky find in Juan Diaz, who brought quality labor from his experience, and who ran the crews, a non-trivial achievement in a region with near-nonexistent trade unemployment, heavy competition and a sloppy work ethic. I watched my labor force change faces on a weekly basis, and I watched most of the subcontractors struggle with similar problems.


CONCLUSION. Having gone through financial and temporal hell in the last two years, I have been put in my place. This place I don't appreciate. There will be future rebellion, as soon as I work out the details.